Health experts convene to discuss prevention and solutions at 2019 Global Health Conference

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Just as news and information travel around the world with ease, so do diseases and global health trends.

As part of the mission of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social, the Global Health Consortium recently hosted the 2019 Global Health Conference, offering three days of cutting-edge workshops and plenary sessions themed around innovative topics and inspiring panelists and speakers. The aim of the conference was to present, analyze and discuss state-of-the art risk analysis and scientific progress on key issues of global health and the serious threats of emerging diseases. This includes new research approaches and innovative scientific and technological solutions to global threats.

“As global health professionals, we need to convene and discuss the issues that are facing underserved communities – that is the only way that we can begin to find solutions and improve health,” said Carlos Espinal, director of the Global Health Consortium at Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. “We are endlessly grateful to all of the health leaders and researchers who attended this year’s Global Health Conference, together we can make a difference!”

Day 1:

The immunization workshop focused on the need to encourage vaccination to reduce the instances of disease, keeping individuals and communities safer. According to Maria Luisa Avila, chief of infectious diseases at Costa Rica’s Children National Hospital, vaccination is up in Latin America thanks to better coverage in individual countries. Children are vaccinated much more in Latin America than in the United States, yet often it is a question of social class as there is still a lack of access in areas of Latin America.

In the arbovirus workshop, experts discussed the spread of diseases by mosquitos and the need for social programs to help citizens protect their homes and communities from the next outbreak. Giovanny Vinícius Araújo de França, from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, spoke about the 2015-2016 Zika outbreak that began in his country before spreading throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He stressed the need for social programs to assist all of those affected by the virus – from children born with microcephaly to those with milder symptoms who are currently not receiving any government assistance in the country.

The inaugural keynote address was given by the distinguished Associate Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Jarbas Barbosa, who spoke about the need to offer universal health and give medical access to all who need it throughout Latin America and the globally.

Day 2:

Students showcased posters of their research to attendees, gaining attention to their research and discussing their work with world-renowned experts. Doctoral student Etinosa Oghogho was awarded $750 for her poster, “Factors Associated with Urinary Incontinence – A Major Symptom of Vesicovaginal Fistula in Underserved Mothers in Rural Eastern Nigeria,” coauthored by Prof. Consuelo Beck-Sague.

The second day’s plenary sessions focused on innovation and technology in health, from individualized cancer treatment to cybersecurity and big data. “There is a need to advance the way medicine looks at technology so that we can harness its potential to better help patients,” said Diana Azzam, assistant professor at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, who spoke about personalized cancer therapy. “Whether it be individualized tests to find the best cure for a patient or assessing large pool of data for researchers to better understand health trends – the future is in technology.”

Technology in health became the hot topic as big data management and cyber security pose both threats for patient information safety and opportunity to better understand the movement of disease as well as prevention and control. While there is a significant need to improve data and records protection, the emphasis was on the importance of these tools to develop education programs while furthering research and developing patents.

The day was concluded with a lecture by Carlos Faerron Guzmán, director of Costa Rica’s Inter American Center for Global Health, who stressed the need for function environmentally friendly policies, based on his work in Costa Rica, in his talk “Green in the New Black: Pioneering comprehensive climate change policy with Costa Rica’s Green New Deal.”

Day 3:

Nearly 44 million people currently suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and the focus of the Alzheimer’s disease workshop included the need to find early biomarkers of the disease to identify susceptible individuals. Another aspect of the workshop was the role of environmental factors that could be risk factors and contribute to disease progression. Francisco Lopera, Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia, stressed the importance of tracking genetics to better understand the spread of Alzheimer’s disease, as there are many cases that are still go undiagnosed due to the difficulty of tracking family lines and a misunderstanding of the disease.

In the antimicrobial resistance workshop, attendees discussed how governments need to create action to mitigate the impending crisis of bacterial resistance to medications. According to Pilar Ramon-Pardo of the Pan American Health Organization, there needs to be a multi-sectorial approach in combating the overuse of antibiotics in our food system, environment and medical use.

With a rise in diagnosis of type II diabetes and gestational diabetes globally, the workshop on non-communicable diseases focused on how to better understand the risk factors. Noel Barengo, assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, highlighted the importance of understanding the populations risks by scoring individuals with screening tests that should lead to diagnostic tests. He stressed that while all individuals all have similar risks factors, the diversity of screening tests around the world do not give communities the same degrees of warning and there needs to be more standardization on how often screening should be done.

All-in-all, the conference highlighted the importance of partnerships to resolve global health issues; that it takes public-private partnerships to move the needle and focus on strategies for intervention and prevention before the next outbreak.

“The 2019 Global Health Conference was an opportunity for health leaders from different fields and sectors to realize that by working together and sharing our experiences, we have the opportunity to change public and global health,” said Tomás R Guilarte, dean of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. “Through the use of technology, community engagement and prevention and intervention programs, we can reach those who most need our help, furthering education and research that will allow us to prevent illness to live in healthier environments and communities.”